The U.S.-Manila relationship just got cozier. Today President Obama signed a 10-year defense agreement with the Philippines, perhaps the most important development to come out of his visit to Asia. The archipelago nation booted American forces out of the country in 1992, ushering in a new era of Filipino nationalism and self-determination. But China’s rise and subsequent territorial aggression in the South China Sea has had Manila looking to the United States for support. The WaPo reports:
Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, wrote in an e-mail that the defense cooperation agreement will not only increase the United States’ presence in the region but also will “justify an increase of U.S. military assistance to the Philippines as a major non-NATO ally.”“The Philippines can use this agreement as a leverage against China’s military and para-military presence in the Spratlys,” Banlaoi wrote, referring to an archipelago of largely uninhabited islands claimed by China and several other countries.
Obama’s Asian pivot has been largely fixed to a few contested pieces of geography: the Senkaku (or Diaoyu) islands and the Spratly islands, all of which are claimed by China. Manila lays claim to the Spratlys, where the Chinese navy regularly patrols and antagonizes Filipino fishermen. Both tiny territories have the potential to spark a war between China and its neighbors.Though the treaty has been under negotiation for eight months now, the signing was by no means inevitable. The President has been lambasted for weak responses to the Ukraine crisis, the Syrian civil war, and generally insufficient attention paid to the concerns of America’s allies. The Administration likely hopes this treaty provides assurance not only to Manila but to U.S. partners in Asia and around the world that Washington stands by its friends.